Franklin County Cider Days is a three-day event where apple cider makers and hard cider brewers converge with tastings and workshops at farms and cider mills across the county. For hard cider makers, it’s a chance for them to purchase mass quantities of cider for the fermenting process, and in Massachusetts, there are only a few farms who mass produce on that level.
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Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: A low-lying fog hovers over a line of cars waiting behind Pine Hill Orchards. But as the haze descends and larger crowds arrive, the day begins to truly take shape for the celebration that it is.
It’s Saturday, November 5th, the second of the three-day event known as Franklin County Cider Days. Pine Hill is just one of over a dozen stops on this tour through the county, and many of the folks that have stopped here have done so for one specific reason.
Brady Shearer, Pine Hill Orchards: Everybody kind of does something a little bit different.
And what we focus on is we press — we press a lot of special blends of apple cider, with different apples than we would normally use in our regular production, for hard cider makers.
Brian Sullivan: The doors officially opened at 9 a.m., although many of the vehicles here in line started showing up one and even 2 hours prior.
The funny thing is, no one seems to mind. They get a chance to stretch their legs out, get some samples and get a rundown on what blends are available when they finally make it down to the pressing room.
The whole concept of driving up in the car and waiting in line to pick up cider didn’t start until 2020 due to certain restrictions, and it probably even seemed like a bit of a hassle back then.
Turns out it’s actually a pretty efficient method. It should be noted that while some people may be arriving here from just one or two towns away, there are others who’ve made a real journey to get here.
Eric Wembacher, Plainsboro, NJ: It’s about a four-hour drive. This morning I got up and left at about 4 a.m.
I was referred here by a friend who does the same thing. I tried it one year and I just — I liked it so much. I enjoy traveling as it is, so I like doing the trip. I bring my dog with me every year.
I’m a member of the Scuba Homebrew Club in New Jersey, so I like doing it so much that when I come to pick up cider now, I pick up cider for everybody else in the club, as well.
Brian Sullivan: The last time that we were here, they were pressing cider, but it was mostly for retail.
What hard cider makers are picking up today is something a little different. And with just under 4,000 gallons available, folks want to get it while the getting is good.
Brady Shearer: The special blends that we make are with with apples that are more friendly just for hard cider making.
So, there’s a lot of apples that maybe aren’t so great to eat, but they do — when you squeeze them into that juice, into that, you know, they call it juice — into cider, it’s something that’s great for them to ferment, add yeast to things like that, and they make their own home blends of hard cider.
People start lining up here about an hour before we open and they wait in line as long as they have to to get down back and get their special blends of cider.
Brian Sullivan: Of course, the day is about more than just filling up containers with cider. It’s a party, and not just for the people who make hard cider, but also for the people who prefer it as their alcoholic beverage.
With the food truck up and running, they can find the perfect cider to pair with their lunch and with music playing under the tent, it was a chance for Artifact Cider to celebrate their longstanding relationship with Pine Hill Orchards.
Jake Mazar, Artifact Cider Project: We call Pine Hill our home orchard.
So, when we started Artifact cider nine years ago now, we came up here to Pine Hill and met with Brady and Matt and told them, you know, we’re looking just to get a small amount, but we wanted a really specific blend of apples, and they’ve been extremely accommodating and willing to work with us and excited about it from the very beginning.
You know, they’ve grown to now be our largest supplier and we’re actually their largest customer, so we buy the majority of apples from them that they use for juice. And yeah, they’ve been incredible, incredible people and incredible products, and they grow some really amazing fruit.
Brian Sullivan: Interestingly enough, hard cider is known to have been served here in North America as far back as the 17th century, yet it’s still attracts a niche market.
That’s what makes gatherings like this one, as well as those taking place at the other stops along the Cider Day’s route, feel like meetings of a very special club.
Jake Mazar: What I love is that people get to feel the passion, the excitement that exists for cider. And there’s so many people here that have dedicated their lives to this, you know, relatively small part of the beverage industry.
It’s not nearly as big as wine or beer or as not as well known, but there’s people like us who dedicate our lives to this and absolutely love the product, and there’s so much to learn.
So, I think that’s contagious for me, getting to talk to people that, whether they’ve been drinking cider or making cider for a decade or this is the first time they’ve ever had one. It’s really fun to get to share that.